Hip entrepreneur Katia Kolobaeva (right) with partner Mikel Pstiga get ready for the big opening. Photograph: Claire Byrne/Phnom Penh Post
Babushka is a new homely eatery dishing up hotpots, borscht, dumplings and cutlets, just like your grandma used to make.
The kitschy-designed, living room-style bistro has just opened on The Lane and is the brainchild of Shanti Shop owner Katia Kolobaeva. She says she wants the food to meet the demands of Siem Reap residents from around the world.
“I tried to make something with homemade cuisine. There’s a lot of recipes, they’re not a high level of cuisine, just simple and homemade. We have people from all over the world so I tried to do something for them.”
Kolobaeva, who also owns a guesthouse in town, isn’t a newcomer to the restaurant game. Her family owned a chain of eight restaurants in her native Moscow. Katia says many of the recipes were inspired by her love of travelling: she spent four years living in France and one in England, but that her biggest culinary influence is her grandmother.
“Babushka means grandmother in Russian,” she explains. “All of our chain of restaurants started from my grandmother, she was from China She’d come into our restaurant in Russia, she’d cook all the time and sometimes people would come in and ask us if grandma was in the kitchen.”
Katia’s grandmother, who sadly died last August, is also responsible for the mis-matched décor in the restaurant, which Katia says she drew from her granny’s home which was a trove of gathered treasures.
“She was a real babushka, she took lots of things from everywhere and brought it into the house, so I was inspired by my grandmother. All the furniture is a little bit different, different kind of wallpapers, like the way the babushka brings different things from all over the place.”
While the restaurant has had a soft opening for the past few weeks, Katia says the official bash will take place on Thursday, as part of a World Music Festival which is taking place in a number of venues along The Lane.
“We will have a live band from Russia here in the evening, all the street will be involved. All day I will serve caviar for free with all the dishes and a free cocktail for everyone too.”
Babushka is in one of Siem Reap’s fasting-growing locations, just a minute from Pub Street. But Katia says the spot, next to Nomad Shisha and opposite the Boulangerie annexe wasn’t always so prime.
“We were the beginners of this street, Manfredi from Il Forno, with that small part of the restaurant, and I started with the shop. It was completely another street, no tourists came down here,” she explains. “We painted, we took out all the garbage only one year and a half ago, I feel like I’ve participated in the life of the city, that makes me really happy. In Moscow, you could never do something like that.”
Babushka’s menu is littered with items both enticing and curious. Among the specialities Katia cites the borsch, and shuba, a salted fish dish she says is popular with the French, while many Koreans and Chinese have been in to sample the dumplings. “I’ve not yet given any advertisements and already we have people who come every day.
Then once they try, the bring some more people, so already it’s a good sign.”
Homemade potatoes, breaded pork, hotpots and apple pies all add to the homely cuisine, while a range of smaller entrees create a tapas-style menu. Babushka also serves breakfast items such as porridge and French-style sweet breads.
With prices low for Western-style food, Katia says she’d rather have a full house than full pockets.
“I try to make good atmosphere, good menu, really tasty dishes,” she explains. “We have 100 square metres, I prefer that I have small profit but a lot of people come and try the place, I just want it to be lively.”